Page URL:

Conviction for cloning scientist Hwang Woo-Suk

26 October 2009
Appeared in BioNews 532

A South Korean court has convicted disgraced stem cell scientist, Hwang Woo-Suk, of embezzling funds and purchasing human eggs for research, after a trial lasting over three years. Hwang was given a two-year sentence suspended for three years by the Seoul Central District Court last week.

Hwang published papers in the journal Science claiming to have produced the world's first cloned human embryonic stem cell line using a technique known as SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer). After suspicions were raised, his claims were investigated and found to be false. It was also alleged that Hwang paid at least one of his own researchers to donate her eggs to the research, which is forbidden under South Korean law. He was fired from his post at Seoul National University (SNU) and banned from continuing his research.

Hwang was indicted in 2006 of embezzling what was then worth $2 million of funds on the back of the fabricated research from government funding bodies and two private companies. The prosecution also brought charges against him for intentionally fabricating his results and for paying for the eggs.

In his judgment, Judge Bae Ki-ryul found that Hwang 'embezzled nearly 830 million won of funds by money laundering with borrowed-name bank accounts', but cleared him of fraud relating to the private companies, saying they gave money without any expectation they would benefit from the research. 'The funds were given to him voluntarily without any specific guideline on its usage,' ruled Bae. Hwang contested that the money was spent on research but the judge said there was no evidence to support his conclusion. The judge also found Hwang guilty of paying for eggs, saying that 'under the law, any types of egg trade are banned,' and explaining that 'Hwang covered the costs of harvesting ova from the donors, which is illegal.' However, the Prosecution did not pursue charges for fabricating his results. Although the Prosecution sought a four year prison sentence, the judge was lenient, referring to Hwang's apparent commitment to scientific research, in addition to not having a previous criminal record and his expression of remorse.

In April, the South Korean government lifted the ban on Hwang, who now works at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, from engaging in human stem cell research. In June he was awarded the Jang Yeong-sil prize for Scientist of the year. Although the scandal arguably left his reputation in ruins, Hwang continued work on animal cloning and successfully cloned three female Afghan hounds in 2007. Members of his team at SNU have also gone on to make breakthroughs, including the announcement they had cloned wolves in 2007, which, after another investigation, were proved to be genuine. Hwang has even teamed up with a US company, BioArts International, to offer dog cloning services to the public.

Hwang's lawyer said that at present there are no plans for appeal, although the prosecution is considering doing so, according to the Korea Times newspaper.

Cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk convicted of fraud
The Times |  26 October 2009
Disgraced scientist gets suspended term
United Press International |  26 October 2009
Hwang Convicted of Embezzlement, Cleared of Fraud
The Korea Times |  26 October 2009
S Korea clone scientist convicted
BBC News Online |  26 October 2009
Woo Suk Hwang convicted, but not of fraud
Nature |  26 October 2009
28 May 2013 - by Richard Fadok 
A group of anonymous scientists has voiced concerns about a controversial stem cell finding published online in Cell earlier this month, causing the journal to begin an investigation...
10 October 2011 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
US scientists have for the first time created 'personalised' human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) using a form of cloning. The result is a significant milestone on the route to using stem cell-based therapies but the researchers stress more work is to be done as genetic errors in the cells means they are not yet suitable for therapeutic use....
8 November 2010 - by Dr Jay Stone 
International journal Nature has found no sign of fraud in a 2009 paper published by Professor Konrad Hochedlinger and colleagues. The allegations came from a group calling itself 'Stem Cell Watch' which has made a series of accusations of fraud against a number of leading stem cell scientists, including Professor Hochedlinger, citing repetition and the manipulation of images among its reasons for concern....
27 September 2010 - by Dr Jay Stone 
Questions continue to be asked after Dr Savio Woo, a gene therapist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, was forced to retract two more of his papers last week. Dr Woo has retracted six papers this year after two of his post-docs, Li Chen and Zhiyu Li, were accused of scientific misconduct....
31 August 2010 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for Medicine with James Watson and Francis Crick in 1962, for the pioneering work in deciphering the structure of the DNA helix. Files recently released to the National Archives now reveal that he was previously being investigated for being a potential communist sympathiser and betraying secrets from his work on the first nuclear bomb...
1 September 2009 - by Nishat Hyder 
Disgraced scientist, Hwang Woo-suk found last Monday that he faces a possible four year jail term for alleged embezzlement, and the violation of Korean bioethics law....
3 May 2009 - by Heidi Colleran 
South Korea's Presidential Committee on Bioethics has granted the first human embryonic stem (ES) cell research licence since their preeminent research scientist fell spectacularly from grace amidst allegations of scientific fraud and embezzlement, over three years ago. Cha Medical Center in the South Korean capital, Seoul, has...
6 October 2008 - by MacKenna Roberts 
The Australian Patent Office, IP Australia, are expected to grant a patent to internationally disgraced South Korean Scientist Hwang Woo-Suk for his human cloning technology which he fraudulently claimed led to false scientific achievements in 2005. Hwang is one of 18 researchers named on the patent application...
4 August 2008 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The South Korean Health Ministry has rejected a licence application to carry out stem cell research made by the company owned by disgraced stem cell scientist, Hwang Woo-Suk, citing 'ethical problems'. The Suam Biotech Research Foundation had requested approval last December to resume its research on human...
27 May 2008 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
US company BioArts International has teamed up with disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk to offer dog cloning services to the public. Five dog owners will be given the opportunity to have their pet cloned in a worldwide auction on 18 June this year, where bidding will...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.